A grower who was interviewed for the linked article said under the condition of anonymity that Champagne was the champion region on this matter (high yields), and possibly of the world. The linked article points to another highly-used vineyard additive in Champagne, Nitrogen.
Here is my translation of one of the related sentences :
The Champagne winegrowers are also the only ones (with the ones of the Charentes region - a region in Western France) to make systematic sprayings of mineral nitrogen. Nearly 80 % of the vineyard surface in Champagne gets nitrogen every year, the goal being higher yields. And when you get higher yields you get vines that are more fragile and subject to disease.
So it becomes clear that greed, higher yields, are directly connected with the heavy-handed chemical sprayings witnessed on this victimized Champagne vineyard...
Unlike most of the other wine regions (and along Bordeaux), Champagne is largely resisting the move toward a vineyard farming preserving the life of the soil, mainly because business keeps getting better and because most growers are paid by the weight and not by the organic quality of their grapes.
Pesticides (including herbicides and fungicides) have been singled out for a recent study by the French Health Institute (INSERM) about their harmful consequences, and in the linked study you learn everything from their introduction on the French agriculture to their different molecule types and risks. The report is at the same time long and detailed but gives a few welcome informations, like the enormous increase in yields after WW2, mainly thanks to these new products used in agriculture : tender wheat for example went from 15
In this december 2006 article [summary, the whole article is not online anymore], the local newspaper L'Union said that traces from 70 different pesticides had been found in the air in Champagne.
On this odd mural found in Reuil (Champagne) you can read the strange sentence "Nous revivons grâce à la viticulture raisonnée" which means "We revive thanks to reasonned viticulture". Agriculture raisonnée is sometimes mistakenly translated by sustanaible agriculture, which is wrong (not that I consider this "sustainable" concept as of any value to begin with), as raisonnée just means that this viticulture keeps using all sort of chemical products, but supposedly in moderate (reasonable) amounts. We all know that anyway the chemical industry created new products that can be dosed in smaller amounts for a more efficient impact on the target, and the soils aren't better off with them I'm afraid.
In this context, such a mural looks more than soviet-style propaganda to keep the local crowds loyal the conventional creed than a spontaneous adhesion in the "business as usual" approach.
To drive the nail further in regard to the health impact of pesticides and herbicides, read this survey (Pdf, in French) made by Générations Futures, a non-profit group, where pesticides residues were found in hair samples taken from 25 people in the Medoc region, 15 being winery workers and the rest residents of the area. The good thing with hair is that it behaves like an open book on past exposures to chemicals, and the study was interesting in that regard : the vineyard workers had 11 times more residues than residents living far from the vineyards, and there was 5 times more residues in non-professional residents living in the area than in residents living far from the vineyards (page 4). And so on.
The study almso says that France is the 1st European country for the use of pesticides and the 3rd in the world, with a total of 62 000 tons of active chemical purchased in 2011.
Now, this is about viticulture in general, but let's remind that in this field Champagne is first.
Now here is again this issue of garbage dumping on the Champagne vineyards to enrich their soil. I know many of you know already about that but not that many when you dig a bit (so to say), including in France. And this is an old thing if untold in France. I even found in an American newspaper a 1969 story about this issue by Philip Wagner who was then a syndicated columnist, editor at the Baltimore Sun, author of American Wines and Winemaking (reprinted several times and known today as Grapes into Wine) and who set up hiw own winery (Boordy Vineyards) in Maryland in 1945...
Here is what Mr Philip Wagner wrote then in 1969 (read it all) : half-rotten grapefruit rinds, egg shells, pieces of bone, remains of chicken, cabbage leaves in decay, torn cigarettes packets, all this for a higher grades of phosphate, nitrogen and humus.
The odd soil-enrichment method was discontinued in 1997, as found on this key-dates page of Champagne), but you still see all sorts of plastic remains waiting for their longer decay.
In this Swiss TV report (in French), you'll review this garbage issue, the pesticides sprayings (sometimes made by helicopter) and the issue of heavily-polluted water tables sitting exactly on the viticulture zones (in red on the map). The Swiss TV selected Vincent Laval to ask him questions about these issues (thanks to Oliv of lapassionduvin).
Always keep a check on the vineyards at all seasons, I tell you, and after my bewildered discoveries in Muscadet and Beaujolais it seems defintely that april/may is the best season to discover the hidden sides of the vineyard fate. Our poor Champagne vineyards are really never let a chance to live a normal vineyard life. In the name of productivism, they're put on IV, get sprayings, fertilizers, artificial respiration and now massive injection of liquid iron....
I learn that the region has been familiar with iron-chelate injection for many years, it's been done for 30 years in the Côte des Blancs on the other side of Epernay but here on Cumières it started timidly 10 years ago and now they do it almost everywhere here too.
It was quite strange to walk along the rows and see all these brownish scars, it's like if these soils had exhausted all their natural reserves and the growers were relying on some sort of desperate major surgery or emergency life support to keep them working.
The chemical industry offers a range of iron chelates, you choose, and some of them are even compatible with organic farming. Notice that on their "Qui sommes nous" page or "who are we"), the company says that their solutions are in line with the Grenelle de L'Environnement [which is a State-sponsored inter-professional circus where everyone turns to be promoting what they call sustanaible this or that].
The official reason behind the iron chelate injections may be the iron deficiency noticed in certain calcaireous (limestone) soils, but as this scientific article (in English) underlines it, the consequence of iron deficiency is a drop in yields, and that's the real issue here in Champagne where yields of 92 hectoliters/hectare are routine. We also learn in this piece focusing on different crops that the agriculture bio industry also designed sulphuric injections as well as urea phosphate injections to correct soil deficiencies. Agriculture has really many faces that I'm not familiar with... When you read this article you discover that like the wines are being routinely corrected in the cellar, the conventional-agriculture soils are being tampered with in order to keep getting the desired yields.
Notice that you can even add other products in the iron injection ;-) :
The composition of the invention can also comprise one or several additives, such as a nutrient, crop health improving agent and/or formulating agent. The nutrient can be one or several of the following: primary nutrient (N,P, K), secondary nutrient (Ca, Mg, S) and/or micro-nutrient (Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, Mo, B, CI). The crop health improving agent can for example be a pesticide, growth regulator or pH regulator. The formulating agent can for example be a dispersing and/or stabilizing agent.
Anyone for another glass of Champagne ?
Effect of Fe-EDDHSA + UP in a vineyard in France
The effect of the injection of a solution of 50 kg ha urea phosphate and 40 kg/ha Fe- EDDHSA in 2500 liter water, 20 cm from the vines at a depth of 30 cm was compared with the standard fertilization practice on vines without iron addition. The trial consisted of 4 replicates. Each replicate consisted of 4 rows of vines, which were treated with the novel solution and 4 rows of vines, which were treated according to the traditional practice. The traditional practice does not include the application of iron chelates. From each replicate the two middle rows of the 4 treated and the 4 control rows were harvested. The results show the average of the 4 replicates.
The trial was carried out on the grape variety Meunier. The total area where the trial took place covered 1.2 ha. [...] During the various growth stages the effect of the soil injection with the combination of urea phosphate and Fe-EDDHSA was followed and compared with the traditional treatment.The yield of grapes was found to be significantly higher in the treated rows. Furthermore it seems that the treatment increases the natural sugar content of the grapes, a very important factor in wine making.
(Wow ! you inject iron and you get sugar, I love these chemicals !)